In many areas of the country, state court rulings, as well as actions taken by local and state governments, have limited freshwater angling access. To prevent unnecessary closures that negatively affect freshwater angling, it is important that closures be based on scientific evidence.
Recent developments regarding freshwater angling access have led to a growing concern nationwide. Marina owners on public Army Corp of Engineers-managed lakes and rivers have attempted to deny anglers access to public waters under and surrounding their facilities. In 2006, a court ruling in Louisiana denied that angling and hunting from a boat are legitimate uses of public navigable waters, potentially setting a national precedent for denying angler access. In addition, several western states have proposed stream access legislation with implications for the public’s ability to fish and float.
Another alarming trend concerns access limitations as a result of aquatic invasive species. In many areas of the country, the growing concern around invasive species (e.g., quagga and zebra mussels) has prompted local municipalities and state agencies to restrict and/or regulate access to certain lakes and rivers in an attempt to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species to new waterbodies. While some efforts to curtail the spread of aquatic invasive species are needed, it is important to remember that such strategies should be constructed in a way that is scientifically based, measurable, and with limited impacts to angling access.
Points of Interest
- In 2016, Alaska enacted AK H 216 that changed the definition “navigable water” to include hunting, trapping, and fishing as “useful public purposes”, thereby ensuring sportsmen’s access and navigation on Alaska’s waterways.
- Closures of public access for fisheries management purposes should be based upon the best available science.
- Public comment should be mandatory for public water closures and water plans.
- Closures should be used only as a last resort after all other resource management tools are utilized.
- Provisions should be provided to reopen access to public aquatic resources when management objectives are achieved.
- The economic and social impacts should be measured and weighed against the benefits of the closure.
- Anglers should have reasonable access to public waters and facilities. Especially if license, Sport Fish Restoration Funds, or Boating Trust Fund monies were used to provide resource management, facility construction or maintenance.
- Stakeholders and experts, such as those from the recreational angling community, should be consulted by agency staff during the evaluation process.
- New “Right to Fish” legislation should include the public’s right to fish on any state or federal waters up to the ordinary high-water mark (a biological vegetation mark indicating deeper waters).
- In states with No-Net-Loss legislation, amendments to existing statutes should include a clause that provides access to public waters.
- Due to Louisiana’s lack of clarity in defining public access to the state’s navigable waterways, the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.), the largest professional fishing organization in the world, will no longer hold fishing tournaments in South Louisiana. A single B.A.S.S. event can contribute more than $2 million to local economies, whereas the Bassmaster Classic can contribute up to $24 million.
- In 2019, the Governor of New Jersey enacted SB 1074, solidifying the right of the public to access tidally flowing and shoreline waters for a variety of purposes, including fishing.
Legislators should support fishing and boating access in state and federal land management plans, encourage state fish and wildlife agencies to purchase access easements, land adjacent to important public fisheries, and improve/expand angler facilities (e.g., launch ramps, cleaning stations, etc.). Additionally, legislators are advised to reach out to stakeholders and inquire if they have experienced being denied fishing access. In an effort to maintain public access to natural resources in their state, legislators should consider legislation that establishes or amends the definition of public use of navigable waters to include the ability to fish from a boat. Finally, there are a number of angling, boating and industry stakeholders who would be willing to assist with any of these issues. For help in identifying who those people or organizations are, please contact the CSF staff lead for your state.